Pic of the actual speakers used in notes one.

Listening Notes 001

S3e, S5e, S6e, S8e, SP2/3e, SR5, S3/5se

Listening Notes 002

Nait5i, CD5i, SUB3.

Listening Notes 003

S6e, S8e, S9e

Listening Notes 004


Listening Notes 005


Notes 001. S5e versus S6e versus SP2/3e

The reason - My motivation for this comparison review is partly a personal test to see if my general thoughts as to how these three speakers perform is in fact correct. The 'feel' that I had for each speaker had developed from listening to them at different times on different systems and in different rooms so I thought I should confirm that my gut feel was in fact correct.

The guidelines - I choose to import and sell Spendor for a reason. That reason being that I feel Spendor offers a sound that I have found very rare. An easy to listen to sound that is accurate, natural, detailed etc. and above all comes very close to sounding like real music in my lounge room. Having said this, as I am not directly comparing Spendor with another brand I feel my comments are worth something and bias doesn't play a role.

I set up the three pairs in turn in the prime position at the front of our main demo area which is a renovated double garage approximately 6.5m square. Its not really square or at least it doesn't sound like a square room as there is quite a lot of 'stuff' (furniture, cartons etc) in the room. There is carpet on the floor and the walls are a rough finish brick. Acoustically the room is quite pleasant, fairly well damped and what I would regard as neutral and fairly typical of what a lot of my customers listen to music in. The speakers were well in from the sidewalls approximately 3 metres apart and about a metre off the rear wall. I listened about 3 metres from the speakers. I used the Audio Refinement CD player/integrated amp combo which punches out a healthy 50 watts of very slightly sweeter than neutral power. Bass control and speed is mediocre on this amp in my opinion, but I am comparing it in my mind with the likes of Naim which is a lot more money than the $1500 the Aud Ref would sell for.

Interconnects were my home-brew silver ones and for speaker cables I chose Audio Quest midnight on the bass and some basic Supra multi strand wire on the mid/treble. The speakers were spiked and the stands placed the bottom of the SP2/3e 330mm off the floor.

The music - I used 3 different CD's of slightly different music. Rickie Lee Jones somewhat dry sounding recording known as 'Pop Pop', Michael Franti and Spearheads deliciously recorded 'Stay Human' and one of my favourite albums, Bill Morrisseys, 'You'll never get to heaven'. I chose this music because I have been listening to it for years on different systems, each track that I chose (2 from each disc) has its little challenges and the CD's were just sitting there on the cabinet which saved me from serious thought as to what I should use and also got me out of the effort of going upstairs, where I keep most of my CD's.

SP2/3e - I have always had a soft spot for this speaker and its predecessors as being a sweet, relaxing listen with a pleasantly rich bass. My first thoughts when I got 'Bill' playing track 6 was just that, although the bass seemed a tad too rich. It was slightly wooden sounding a bit plodding even. The vocals were very nice though, typically Spendor and a total pleasure to listen to. Listening to track 12 on the same Morrissey disc, the horns were very 'pleasant' but perhaps somewhat recessed sounding and didn't quite get my heart going. The bass was sounding somewhat 'leaden' on this track too. So all very nice and warm but not terribly exciting. Lets put in RLJ and see what happens.

The first thing I noticed when listening to track 4 on 'Pop Pop' was the height of the vocal image and the general feel of instruments placed around the stage in front of me was very impressive. The vocal sounded somewhat dry but then anyone familiar with this album knows it sounds dry on almost any system and if it doesn't, watch out when you put some screeching bimbo in the CD player. The double bass actually sounded fine on this track and track 6 which I played next. Certainly a little plump and well rounded but very pleasant. Once again Rickie sounded a little dry but very easy on the ears and natural sounding.

On to Mr Franti. On track 8 of 'Stay Human' the image was once again quite palpable and sounded very 'pleasant', but perhaps a little sizzly on top and maybe a little empty sounding as if the mid was very slightly sucked out and in so doing has sucked some pace and pizazz out of the performance. A damn easy and pleasant sound to listen to though. You could just sit there and listen for hours. Track 11 on the same excellent album was enjoyable the sound was perhaps a little too relaxed and not quite 'together'.

So to sum up, it sounds like my gut feel was about right. Maybe not the speaker for speed freaks, but certainly a good choice if your room acoustics are less than perfect or you have a very aggressive sounding front end that needs balancing. These speakers I feel would come together nicely on a Naim front end (as I think most of the classic series does). If you want a relaxing 'friend' to play your music and do a half decent job of seducing you at the same time these 8” 2 ways from the old school are a great choice. Now on to something newer!

S6e - I have developed a bit of a taste for these speakers in recent times. Consensus has it that they perform well above what is typical for their price range and in turn have won speaker of the year from two different UK Hifi mags for 2004. My 'gut feel' has it that they are a big sounding speaker with a detailed and lively upper mid and top with amazingly good extension in the bass which is also quite well controlled. The mid is once again typically Spendor, uncoloured, seemingly completely lacking in hardness, boxiness and any nasty nasal sounding qualities.

So was I right? I listened to Franti first. Very similar tonal balance to the previous speaker but significantly snappier, seemingly less 'coloured' in the vocal area and even 'nicer' to listen too than the older design. On the second track it was made obvious that these speakers a very similar to the SP2/3e but everything is faster, tighter, has less 'colour' and perhaps less 'grain' and best of all is even more enjoyable to listen too. The overall balance of the sound is still on the rich side of neutral.

On to Bill Morrissey and his raspy throaty vocal has lost a bit of its earthy appeal but the slightly plodding bass on these two tracks has disappeared. The horns on track 12 have come to life. They now have the immediacy they were missing on the SP2/3e and yet still sound 'nice' and also very 'natural'.

On RLJ the S6e's are sounding very nice but perhaps there isn't quite the emotional 'grab' I was expecting. The bass is very pleasant and everything is in the right place. The imaging doesn't seem quite as spacious or as palpable as on the stand mounters.

Overall these speakers are rippers and seem to be pretty much what I thought they were. They are very well balanced in their different performance area's. No one aspect sticks out and you get the feeling that the budget was enough for there not to be any real compromises in the design. Now lets try the little S5e's

S5e - I like the way these speakers look. They're so damn cute! Possibly the smallest 'floor standers' at any price range the cabinets are exceptionally inert. If you rap your knuckles on the top of the enclosure you are more likely to cause yourself an injury than vibrate any wooden material. When the 'e' versions of the 'S' series from Spendor was launched 12 months ago, the S5e was a brand new model and immediately started to win high praise from the UK Hifi press. It also has been popular in the US with it receiving best budget product of the year in 2004 from none other than 'Stereophile magazine'. I have always liked this speaker but considered it somewhat 'dry' sounding, a bit small scale and not really my cup of tea. So was I right or not? Read on...

I put RLJ back in the player and was confronted with a similarly dry sound as before but this time Rickie seemed to be singing to me! It is very hard to describe but without expecting anything there was a definite emotional boundary being crossed by this speaker. It took a few minutes for me to realise what was happening. The first I noticed was that the track was nearly ended and I hadn't had any thoughts of maybe skipping forward and getting on with the review. I noticed the incredible tunefulness of the bass and the almost complete lack of overhang on bass notes and then realised that there is this little bit extra happening in the mid that lets the genie (in this case Rickie Lee) escape from the speaker. The imaging was also somewhat better focused than on the two previous speakers, but without the height, the SP2/3e offered.

On to Spearhead again and the vocal from Franti was smack in the middle and rock stable. The bass very quick and agile although I did note that the amp's volume control was displaced somewhat further towards number eleven than with the other two transducers.

On Mr Morrissey I came to realise that the vocal performance of the S5e is the pick of these three speakers. The earthiness mentioned earlier was back and yet the voice seemed very natural and uncoloured. Subtle inflections and vocal stylings were laid bare in a very enjoyable way. On the horn laden track 12 the S5e's won again for the most impressive sounding horns this time. The brass instruments were vibrant, real and above all a joy to listen to.

To sum up the S5e's performance, they initially sound a little small scale and they probably are. For wandering around the house and general background music the other two speakers deliver a bigger a sound, but sit yourself down after doing the housework and spin a few discs and as long as the proviso's I mention below are adhered to these are the most involving listen of the three for me. I feel they might lend themselves to neutral or slightly brighter sounding equipment and rooms.

Proviso's - In the case of the S5e, it may well have offered the most involving performance but there are a few issues to consider. Firstly these are insensitive loudspeakers. 50 watts of high quality power is needed and even then you will have the vol knob closer to the stop than you will be used to. The outright volume available is satisfactory when they are used in a medium sized room or smaller but if you like it loud you will need to look into the other two speakers on offer here. The S5e is also very realistic in its bass output and doesn't seemingly couple with the rooms boundaries to exaggerate the bass like other speakers. This is almost certainly a good thing and perhaps one of the reasons the bass is so lively, but if you like a full, “rich” sound you will be happier with the other two choices. All this is perhaps making the '5' sound like its a thin scratchy sounding thing! Not in the slightest, but it is a smallish loudspeaker and sounds a bit like it. Its emotionally enthralling performance will side track you from these issues though.

Both the SP2/3e and the S6e offer up a bigger, lusher sound and initially seem more impressive and probably are if you feel you need to turn it up a bit or appreciate a fuller bass. Once again I wouldn't expect huge output in a room much bigger than my 40m2.

Sum up - Mmm, If I had to choose! Well if I did have to choose I would probably take the S6e as it is the best all rounder. It gives me the size of sound I like that adds a touch of realism to rock and big orchestra's that a small speaker like the S5e can't quite give. It gives enough deep bass that it would be alright without a sub in any kind of sensible surround sound system as well. It gets so many things right and is an absolute pleasure to listen too.

The S5e is the more communicative speaker though and if I just listened to music at medium volumes in a smallish room I would have very little trouble choosing it as many very happy customers of ours have.

The SP2/3e has probably had its day to some degree. So new materials, design idea's and fashionable looking boxes can offer improvements over the old stand mount originals! If you are looking for a slightly more emotional vocal performance than the S6e, with reasonable sensitivity and a quite musical, lush and really a slightly fat bass this is your loudspeaker.

So I suppose my gut feel about each speaker was correct, but I missed one very important point in relation to the S5e. It really offers a large taste of the communicative midrange qualities of the bigger models like the SP100.

They are of course all very good and are all very enjoyable to listen to in that very Spendor kind of way. What is surprising is just how different they are while still offering the fatigue free performance that Spendor have become famous for. The “Spendor Magic”.

Notes 002. S3e 'v' S3/5se 'v' SR5.

The set up – I used the same room as previous for this comparison. 6.5m x 6.5m x 2.4m ceiling. I moved my listening chair forward a little to create an equal lateral triangle and set up the little speakers approximately one metre from the rear wall and about 2.5 metres apart. I pointed them in towards the chair. I positioned the wall mount SR5's 2/3 of the way up the wall and also approximately 2.5 metres apart. I used the same electronics and cable as used in the previous notes. All 3 pairs were more or less 'run-in' with an average of 100 odd hours of usage each.

S3e – I tried out the S3e first for no particular reason. They sounded terrific straight away without repositioning or tweaking. Well that's not quite true as when I first switched the amp and CD on and selected play the sound was somewhat thin and a bit metallic sounding. I put the CD on repeat, turned up the volume a bit and walked away for a few hours wondering whether there was some truth in this audiophile talk of having to warm things up for a while before any serious listening takes place. Fast forward 3 hours...I don't know whether it was the speaker's voice coils or the amp and CD or a combination but now the music was sweet, full, rich and very tuneful. I left the amp and CD on 24 hours a day for the next few days and never heard anything other than sweet sounds as soon as I pressed play. From that one might assume that it was the electronics not the speakers needing to come up to temperature.

Walter Becker's solo album was my first CD on the S3e's. Track 4 sounded damn fine. Surprisingly full sounding, the bass very quick and quite weighty. Very detailed mid and treble and yet also very soothing and relaxed sounding. Maybe even bordering on being too relaxed. Very fine sound for such an affordable speaker.

Moving on to my second CD for this comparison, Thelma Housten's, 'I got the music in me'. Still excellent sound, with Thelma's exuberant vocal performance kept under control and not turning screechy. Dynamics seemed a little constrained though with the drums not quite having the slam I had hoped for. I played this track quite loud though and the speakers hung in there and didn't distort or sound like they were very near their limits which I am sure they were.

Next CD was Michael Franti's 'Stay Human' album. I listened to track one initially and it sounded so impressive and was so enjoyable to listen to I just let it roll through to track three. The notes I took at the time are full of positive comments like, “wow what detail”, “rich”, “amazingly full and just plain beautiful”! Bass was exceptionally tuneful and fat on Freaky People. Okay so this is obviously a first class recording but these speakers held nothing back. Spendor's always seem to make the most of older recordings and make more of the positives in the recording than the negatives, as they did on the Thelma Housten recording made in the 1970's, but to then turn around and release all of the energy, fine detail and dynamics of a good quality modern recording is a great feat in my book and is what separates Spendor from many other loudspeakers.

On to something quieter with Jay Leonhart and the track 'Caribbean'. The acoustic double bass sounded quite real and his vocal reproduction was accurate if lacking a little emotion. The piano sounded 'right', but this track didn't quite grab me on these speakers.

On to another oldie but a goody with some music from Dave Grusin before he went 'elevator'. Sun Song is the track and it got up and danced. A big sound, plenty of smack from the percussion and just excellent sound. They only just coped with the intro while turned up fairly hard though. Yep these speakers are amazing for their size and price, particularly when you consider that the build quality is to the same standard as the S9e. Just so musical, pleasant and exciting to listen to.

To sum up the S3e's sound I would suggest that they are somewhat polite sounding but offer amazing levels of detail retrieval, surprising dynamics and extension in the bass, good enough imaging and just a mostly absorbing, completely non fatiguing listen.

S3/5se – So the question is, I suppose, how do the old standards (S3/5se) compare to the newer Spendor bookshelf sized speakers? I played all the same music and played it all the way through and came up with the following thoughts.

On most tracks the S3/5se sounds a little smaller scale. The bass is definitely not quite as convincing, and dynamically in the lower registers it is not as capable. For instance it had more trouble coping with the big intro on Sun Song. The strange thing is that on some tracks like Thelma Housten I would swear the drums sounded more natural and real and with a bit more slam to them. I suppose this speaker is somewhat less clinically flat in its response and so a touch of 'colour' is added where the S3e just plays it as it is.

The other big difference is in midrange detail. The S3e definitely has the edge when it comes to dredging up that last skeric of information on the recording.

The big plus with the S3/5se though is the vocal qualities. All I can say is wow! This speaker must be the most natural sounding speaker in the vocal range, full stop. They just sound so real, both on male and female. Michael Franti sounded stunning and what really surprised me is how much more easily I could understand his lyrics. If you have been hankering after a speaker that does away with sibilant sounding vocals, then the S3/5se is for you. No more exaggerated schoosshing, just a clean vocal sound that has you putting away the lyric sheet and just listening and understanding every word.

So to sum up the S3/5se I would say firstly that it is perhaps at its best in a smaller room. In a bedroom sized room I think this is all the speaker you would ever need and its limitations in the bass and with the ultimate volume it can play at would be minimised. In a smaller room its incredible ability in the midrange could soar and you might well find yourself hiding in there with a box full of your favourite CD's not wanting to come up for air for days. I didn't notice it being more than maybe 1 dB less sensitive than the S3e and it handled very nearly as much power, but yes technology has moved on in the capability stakes but perhaps not in the abilty to emotionally bond with the listener. If I were to be listening primarily to small scale vocal works I would definitely choose the S3/5se but if I needed a speaker to do almost everything very well and I had a larger room then the S3e is probably the go. Both are a joy to listen to though.

SR5 – So onto the weido speaker of the group. I spent considerable time trying different heights, angles and upside down rightway up positions before I became satisfied with the performance of this angular design. Once I had it sounding the way I wanted it offered a slightly brighter balance than the S3e, but very similar sound in the midband and would of course make an excellent 'timbre matched' surround speaker for use with most of the S series, as it is intended to be. It still offered great detail retrieval, a clean top end and a meaty bass response. Unfortunately even with all my experimenation and Spendor's effort to get the speaker to sound 'right' when mounted against the wall it still sounded a little congested in the upper bass and never sounded as open as either of the other speakers on test here. The bass also is lacking a little extension too but the speaker still sounds quite full and satisfying in the bass.

I feel, to sum up the SR5, that a fair bit of testing with diffferent placement should be done before actually drilling the holes in the wall. Once located for best results the speaker delivers a very good performance for its box volume and for something as 'virtually invisible' as this speaker is, but it is not going to persuade anyone away from the more 'normal' recipes of the S3/5se and S3e. The exception being that the bass may well be better controlled and balanced from the SR5 when sited in a bookshelf versus bookshelf siting for the other two where their bass maybe more likely to bloat and sound a little one note. I didn't try any of these three speakers in a bookshelf location so I am only guessing.

They don't sound so exceptionally well balanced tonally as the S3e and are of course not even in the same ball park when their mid is compared to the S3/5se but as a multi channel speaker that is indeed very well tonally matched to other speakers from the Spendor range you may be using at the front of the room, they are the speaker of choice.

Sum up - I would have no reservations at all using the SR5 for an excellent match at the rear of a premium quality surround system whether it be for music or cinema or both. At the front I would probably use the S3e for a multi purpose system in a medium sized room, but as I mention above and I am not exagerating, the S3/5se is very special in the mid and for a smallish music listening room they are almost certainly one of the finest 'listens' out there. If you like turntables and valves you are going to love them. If on the other hand you like more clarity, solid state amps and high quality CD players then order a pair of S3e in the colour of your choice.

Till next time, Bye.

This site was last updated 15-02-2013
All images, text and information on this web site are copyright to Audiofix and Andrew Hutchison.